Seumas Spark

I guess every reviewer comes to a book with expectations, especially when the author’s reputation precedes him or her. On opening this collection, I knew that Les Carlyon (who died in 2019) wrote well. I remember my parents reading him in The Age and murmuring approval of his lyrical style and, sometimes, the content. I knew he loved horses, the track, and the punt. To me these were disappointments to overlook: I have hated horse racing since I was a kid driving around with my grandfather in his Datsun, windows up and the races on. My grandfather never wound down the windows, presumably so he could hear the call: perhaps it was the lack of fresh air that poisoned me against the sport. And I knew that Carlyon had written huge tomes on war and the Australian experience: Gallipoli (2001) and The Great War (2006) won acclaim, sold well, and left some military historians with reservations about his scholarship. My expectations, mostly, were realised. I sped through A Life in Words, encountering witty and whimsical delights along the way.

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The convict Thomas Brooks was transported to Sydney in 1818. He had been sentenced to seven years but would serve twenty-seven, with stints in some of Australia’s most brutal penal settlements. His life became a cycle of escape attempts, recapture, and punishment. Each grab for freedom made his chains heavier, the floggings ever more severe. Eventually the penal system broke him, his spirit and will to escape crushed. When Brooks was finally released, he went bush, content to live in a humpy, drink, and ponder his past. He wondered how Britain could see fit to abolish slavery and yet maintain the convict system. ‘For our slavery there was no balm. Those who believed in the freedom of men had cast us out; and those who were incapable of reflection must have seen the impassable gulph between the stains of our bondage and the free position of honest liberty.’

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With his founding of the Bauhaus in 1919, the German architect Walter Gropius proposed a radical reimagining of the arts and crafts. His manifesto outlined the principles for an institution that would unify architecture, art, and design, creating ‘a new guild of craftsmen, free of the divisive class pretensions that endeavoured to raise a prideful barrier between craftsmen and artists!’ At the heart of this stirring vision was a world in which creativity was directed to practical ends, where function was a fundamental element of creative endeavour. Gropius’s call was both inspiring and timely, and it found ready devotees. In a continent savaged by four years of war, there was urgent need for a new way. Paul Klee, Wassily Kandinsky, and Oskar Schlemmer were a few of the many who made their way to the German city of Weimar to work with Gropius and to help realise his vision.

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'I Wonder': The life and work of Ken Inglis edited by Peter Browne and Seumas Spark

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May 2020, no. 421

I am ashamed to recall that when our high-school history class in the late 1970s was set K.S. Inglis’s The Australian Colonists (1974), I – and I don’t think I was alone – didn’t quite know what to do with a text that focused on ‘ceremonies, monuments and rhetoric’, one that began as a study on 26 January 1788 but worked back as an historical enquiry from 25 April 1915.

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Dunera Lives: Volume 1: A visual history by Ken Inglis, Seumas Spark, and Jay Winter with Carol Bunyan

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September 2018, no. 404

Dunera Lives: A visual history is a compelling examination of the experiences of Britain’s enemy aliens within Australia’s detention centres in World War II. This evocative visual narrative of primary sources, compiled by the late Ken Inglis with Seumas Spark and Jay Winter, assisted by Carol Bunyan ...

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The subtitle of this book is Papua New Guinea and the Defence of Australia since 1880. Michael Somare, first prime minister of Papua New Guinea (PNG), is at the centre of the cover photograph, and the cover design uses red, yellow, and black, the colours of the PNG flag. Yet for much of this book PNG is at the periphery of ...

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First, a quibble. In the first paragraph of his introduction, John Connor writes that few Australians could ‘name a significant figure of the Australian Army’, John Monash and Simpson (and his donkey) aside. I am less sure. A generation after his death, Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop remains a familiar name. Two of the past three governors-general, including the incu ...

I hazard a guess that more books are published on Anzac – the day, the legend, the myth – than on any other subject in Australian history. The least of these ...

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Visiting Australia in November 2011, President Obama announced plans for the deployment of United States marines to a Darwin base. The decision to establish a permanent American military presence in northern Australia, taken with the support of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Australian government, was part of the 'pivot' to Asia in US defence policy. The idea ...